Argo in the Milwaukee Business Journal: A Look at the Rise of Argo Translation

Milwaukee, WI – December 27, 2002 – Celebrating its seventh year in business, reporter Michael Muckian interviews president and founder, Peter Argondizzo at Argo’s original Milwaukee headquarters prior to their move to Chicago in 2004.

As one of seven staff translators at Marquette Electronics in the mid-1990s, Peter Argondizzo thought there might be a better way to translate the company’s instructional and marketing materials into Italian. In 1995, after two years with the Milwaukee electronics firm, he decided to find out.

Argondizzo, 32, formed Argo Translation Inc. the year he left Marquette. Argo now provides written and spoken translation services to some of the Milwaukee area’s largest corporations.

Marquette was among Argo’s first clients, a relationship that continued when GE Medical Systems, Waukesha, purchased the Milwaukee firm in November 1998, he said. In the last seven years, many of the area’s blue-chip corporations also have become Argo clients.

Today, Argo Translation, located in a 1923 Milwaukee bungalow on South Howell Avenue that served as a neighborhood grocery during the Great Depression, provides translation services for 173 corporate clients, including Harley-Davidson, Northwestern Mutual and Aurora Health Care.

Most of Argo’s business is done with Wisconsin and Illinois companies, but Argondizzo also has contracts throughout the United States and with several firms in Italy. Argo has a sister office, American Translation Link, in Taipei, Taiwan, that handles much of the firm’s Asian translation business.

An emphasis on quality management practices separates Argo from the other area translation firms, Argondizzo said. It’s also helped Argo become an active player in what Argondizzo describes as “a multibillion-dollar industry.”

Argo, with a staff of five, contracts with 41 translation specialists, most located in Wisconsin and the Midwest, to translate corporate documents and manuals, software, audio tracks and anything else needing translation. The firm has even handled face-to-face translation and translated messages printed on chopsticks for one client’s special event.

“A local insurer once asked us to translate the Americans With Disabilities Act into Punjabi (an Indian dialect), so we have to be pretty versatile,” said Argondizzo.

Argo’s team has translated projects into 46 languages  everything from Afghani to Zulu.

Argondizzo didn’t realize he’d made his career choice when he took his first translator job. He graduated in 1992 from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in human resource management and finance and a minor in Italian.

“We also spoke Italian at home,” said Argondizzo, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Italy in the 1950s, settling in Cudahy.

Argondizzo had wanted to be a financial analyst, then considered a career as the human resources manager of a large area corporation. He became disenchanted early both with the lack of opportunities and the generally low administrative level to which human resources was relegated by many companies.

Although he didn’t realize it at the time, his college job as a Midwest Express reservations agent would have a profound impact on his ultimate career. The airline’s emphasis on quality and customer service  particularly a supervisor he described as “a Disney freak”  colored Argondizzo’s viewpoint. He not only inherited his former supervisor’s passion for quality and service, but also his Disney fixation. His office, located in the dining room of the former bungalow that serves as Argo headquarters, shows subtle signs of Disney influence everywhere. A silver Epcot globe perches on the attractive mahogany molding behind his head, while a 1940s-vintage framed sepia-toned photo of Walt Disney looks across the room at Argondizzo, who drinks French roast coffee out of an oversized mug decorated with Disney characters.

The whimsical bric-a-brac mirrors Argondizzo’s natural enthusiasm, but he isn’t afraid to push them aside as he unfurls a classic TQM “fishbone” diagram of how the translation process works at Argo. The 10 steps the small company takes in translating its clients’ documents go a long way toward meeting the company’s translation requirements and Argo’s quality standards, he said.

“In the old days we all used to do ‘flush-left’ translation,” said Argondizzo, referring to the old read-and-translate method. At Argo, the process has been automated with an eye toward eliminating redundant processes, such as retranslating already completed sections of manuals and software.

“It used to take 15 minutes per page, but now we can do as many as 100 pages in an hour,” said Argondizzo.

Computer-driven Database management is the key, he said. Rather than treating each document as a new-from-scratch assignment, Argo retains client documents in its in-house database.

Once a document  an instruction manual, for example  has been translated, updates become both easy and relatively inexpensive. Argo only charges for those words actually translated for the first time. Any repeated sections from a previous translation carry over to the new edition. The client doesn’t pay for that carryover.

Argo charges a base rate of 28 cents per word for translation and management services, but offers special rates to longstanding or high-volume clients.

Argondizzo would not divulge company revenue, but said business has increased significantly since Argo was founded � until the soft economy compromised the translation business recently.

“Growth was down 5 percent this year and 3 percent last year,” said Argondizzo, citing slowdowns among some businesses he serves.

He believes Argo’s emphasis on customer service has helped soften the downturn. Several clients agreed that it was the company’s prime advantage.

“Argo’s strong suit is their desire to understand our processes and develop a relationship with us,” said Valerie Jacobson, documentation translation specialist for Quad/ Tech Inc., Sussex.

The company, a division of Quad/Graphics Inc., produces printing-press controls and auxiliary equipment. Argo translates various technical manuals and software for the company’s products, Jacobson said.

Quad/Tech also works with McNeil Multilingual, a Springfield, Va., firm with which the company has had a longstanding relationship. Argo handles the European language translations, Jacobson said. About 75 percent of the company’s annual translation budget  about $200,000  goes to Argo, she said.

The firm provides similar services to S.C. Johnson & Son’s in-house creative services department, including audio-track translation for most of the nearly 50 videos the department produces every year, said video producer Christine Jordan.

Argo offers turnkey services, providing script translations and talent to S.C. Johnson’s staff technicians who cut the audio at the company’s in-house recording facilities, Jacobson said.

“The staff is very flexible, and we’re told from our field reps that their translations into Ukrainian, Chinese, Portuguese and other languages are very good,” Jordan said.

That type of evaluation is music to Argondizzo’s ears, no matter what language in which it’s spoken.